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NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Selects UT Austin As Research And Education Partner

October 17, 2012 Leave a comment

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has selected The University of Texas at Austin for its Strategic University Research Partnership program — a federally funded program focused on advancing space exploration.

The partnership will enable the university and JPL researchers to propose collaborative research and educational projects in strategic focus areas such as robotics, nanosatellites and high-precision mapping. The program also creates an employment pipeline for JPL’s future workforce.

The University of Texas at Austin is one of 12 universities that have been selected for this partnership.

Full Story: http://www.engr.utexas.edu/news/7417-nasapartnership

How To Hunt A Space Rock

October 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Peter Willis and his team of researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., had a problem. Actually, more like they had a solution that needed a problem. Confused? Let’s let Peter give it a shot…

“My team and I came up with a new lab on a chip,” said Willis, a scientist at JPL’s Microdevices Lab. “It essentially miniaturizes an automated sample processing and analysis instrument that could be put aboard future spacecraft and sent to distant planets, moons and asteroids. One challenge we have is finding new and interesting samples to try our chip on.”

The team had already gone into the field in quest of unique samples. Among their previous expeditions, they had hunted down trilobite fossils at the lava field in Amboy, Calif., and gathered samples from a hydrothermal vent near Yosemite National Park. But Willis and crew knew that when testing something destined for another world, it is good to try it on something not of this world. What they needed was a sign from above. On the evening of Aug. 21, 2012, a large fireball that turned night into day was reported over a mountain range halfway between Reno and Salt Lake City. By convention, the meteorite was named after the nearest town or prominent geographic feature.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-320

Dawn Sees Hydrated Minerals On Giant Asteroid

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

View of Cornelia crater on the giant asteroid Vesta shows an example of “pitted terrain,” Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech /UCLA/MPS /DLR
/IDA /JHUAPL

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has revealed that the giant asteroid Vesta has its own version of ring around the collar. Two new papers based on observations from the low-altitude mapping orbit of the Dawn mission show that volatile, or easily evaporated materials, have colored Vesta’s surface in a broad swath around its equator.

Pothole-like features mark some of the asteroid’s surface where the volatiles, likely water, released from hydrated minerals boiled off. While Dawn did not find actual water ice at Vesta, there are signs of hydrated minerals delivered by meteorites and dust evident in the giant asteroid’s chemistry and geology. The findings appear today in the journal Science.

Vesta is the second most massive member of the main asteroid belt. The orbit at which these data were obtained averaged about 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface. Dawn left Vesta earlier this month, on Sept. 4 PDT (Sept. 5 EDT), and is now on its way to its second target, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Full Story:http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-297
Also: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/news/dawn20120920.html

Researchers Brew Up Organics On Ice

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

Would you like icy organics with that? Maybe not in your coffee, but researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., are creating concoctions of organics, or carbon-bearing molecules, on ice in the lab, then zapping them with lasers. Their goal: to better understand how life arose on Earth.

In a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the research team provides the first direct look at the organic chemistry that takes place on icy particles in the frigid reaches of our solar system, and in the even chillier places between stars. Scientists think that the basic ingredients of life, including water and organics, began their journey to Earth on these lonesome ice particles. The ice and organics would have found their way into comets and asteroids, which then fell to Earth, delivering “prebiotic” ingredients that could have jump-started life.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-293

JPL To Stream Mars Curiosity Telecon And Lecture

September 12, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA will host a media teleconference at 11 a.m. PDT (2 p.m. EDT) tomorrow (Wednesday, Sept. 12), to provide a status update on the Curiosity rover’s mission to Mars’ Gale Crater.

The Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is more than one month into a two-year mission to investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.

Also this week, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager Richard Cook will speak Thursday, Sept. 13 in JPL’s von Karman Auditorium. The lecture, which begins at 7 p.m. PDT (10 p.m. EDT), is open to the public and will be broadcast live with moderated chat, on JPL’s Ustream channel.

Full Story and Links: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-287

Dawn Has Departed The Giant Asteroid Vesta

September 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Image credit: NASA/JPL Caltech/UCLA/MP /DLR/IDA

Mission controllers received confirmation today that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has escaped from the gentle gravitational grip of the giant asteroid Vesta. Dawn is now officially on its way to its second destination, the dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn departed from Vesta at about 11:26 p.m. PDT on Sept. 4 (2:26 a.m. EDT on Sept. 5). Communications from the spacecraft via NASA’s Deep Space Network confirmed the departure and that the spacecraft is now traveling toward Ceres.

“As we respectfully say goodbye to Vesta and reflect on the amazing discoveries over the past year, we eagerly look forward to the next phase of our adventure at Ceres, where even more exciting discoveries await,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-277

To Planets And Beyond: Voyager Celebrates 35 Years

September 5, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrates the 35-anniversary of the Voyager mission, whose twin spacecraft conducted a Grand Tour of the planets and are now headed into interstellar space. A panel discussion in JPL’s von Karman auditorium will highlight insider stories about designing the planetary tour, Voyager’s post-launch “anxiety attack,” Voyager 2’s encounter with Neptune, and the Golden Record.

Full Story and Video: http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2

NASA Announces Aug. 27 Mars News Conference

August 24, 2012 Leave a comment

NASA will hold a televised news conference at 2 p.m. PDT (5 p.m.EDT), Monday, Aug. 27, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., about the activities of its Curiosity rover mission on Mars. The event will feature new images, an update of the rover’s progress, and a special greeting by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Full Story and Links: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-258b

First Words Of Safe Landing On Mars – Tango Delta Nominal

August 22, 2012 Leave a comment

10:32 p.m. on the evening of Aug. 5 was turning out to be one long minute for Steve Sell. Of course, the previous six had been significantly protracted as well. When added together, the entry, descent and landing of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover had been touted as “Seven Minutes of Terror,” and as far as Sell was concerned things were trending in that direction. What the 42-year-old engineer from Gettysburg, Pa., wanted more than anything in that seventh minute was to hear the words “UHF Strong.”

There had been a debate amongst Curiosity’s entry, descent and landing team about what their first words to indicate that the rover had reached the surface should be. The EDL team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew their microphones would be “hot” and that NASA TV was beaming the landing event out live to anybody with the desire and wherewithal to watch. They also knew that landing safely on Mars meant more than simply landing on Mars – which any one of the 34 engineers present at JPL’s Building 264 Room 230, also known as the “EDL War Room,” will tell you at great length is not simple at all.

What if the descent stage kept descending right on top of the rover? What if the bridles connecting the two did not separate? What if the algorithm used to throttle up the engines for the flyaway maneuver was not accurate? It was the remaining “what ifs” that made what those first words from Mars confirming the rover was on the surface so important.

Full Story: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-253

Student Commands Mars Rover

August 21, 2012 Leave a comment

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, physics doctoral student had the rare opportunity to control one of the science instruments on NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars. Tate is working with Jeffrey Moersch, associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

As a “payload uplink lead,” Tate assembled and verified the instrument command sequence for his science team’s instrument, a neutron detector. Overnight, his commands were sent to the rover, sitting millions of miles away on the Martian surface. They instructed the rover’s neutron detector to power up, take data for a couple hours, save it all and send it back to Earth.

“It blows my mind to think that I told a robot on another planet 150 million miles away to do something and it happened,” said Tate, of Woodberry, Tennessee.

Full Story: http://www.utk.edu/tntoday/2012/08/21/student-commands-mars-rover/